The Fraser Years - and the
origins of Friends of the ABC (cont from 8)
Keith Mackriell, assistant general manager of radio, was
put in the position of asking for the scripts of Manning Clark's Boyer
lectures before he gave them because he had supported demonstrations against
Sir John Kerr over the dismissal. After great commotion in the ABC, the
Commission announced that Professor Clark would give his lectures as he
had written and recorded them. 'What on earth was all the fuss about?'
asked a reviewer after the broadcasts.
Eventually the report of the Green inquiry was released.
Most of its recommendations were ignored but the subsequent Bill loosened
links to the Public Service and increased the number of Commissioners.
It also contained a bombshell: it allowed for all the Commissioners to
be removed from office.
"Only once in 42 years had a Commissioner
been removed (for missing two meetings). 'No government had ever behaved
so radically towards the ABC as Fraser's did when it set about re-writing
the law to make a clean sweep of the Commissioners appointed by its
"Argonauts, prepare to mutiny!" called Phillip Adams
in a packed Melbourne Town Hall on 23 November at a meeting convened
by Aunty's Nieces and Nephews to protest about the government's policy
towards the ABC. Aunty's N&Ns lobbied all members of federal parliament
against the clause removing the Commissioners. In Sydney Town Hall on
25 November, 1,700 ABC staff members resolved to express no confidence
in Bland and to set off a series of strikes if the government sacked
any of the Commissioners before their terms expired.
On Monday 29 November a 24-hour strike of nearly all
staff in NSW blacked out television and radio programmes. Then followed
a startling intervention in the dispute with a statement about the ABC
in Parliament: the Government, said Mr Fraser, had real sympathy for
production staff, who were bearing the brunt of [budget] cuts while
others were spared. The most vehement protest to this statement came
from Sir Henry Bland. After a written exchange with Fraser he issued
a statement refuting what Fraser had said about the incidence of cuts
'and deplored his remarks as breaching the statutory independence of
Moreover, by this time Bland had become convinced that
the cuts were causing great harm to the organisation; he asked the government
to make a supplementary grant of $5.5 million- this was to compensate
for the effects of high inflation.
The lobbying by Aunty's N&Ns assisted in the dropping of the clause allowing
the removal of the Commissioners. Instead, two more Commissioners were
to be added to give Bland the chance to appoint people he wanted. But
Sir Henry had not wanted that and he insisted on resigning, after only
five months as Chairman, claiming that the Prime Minister had let him
down and not fulfilled the promises he had made when he offered him the
The new Chairman was J.D. Norgard. He presided over a Commission consisting
of seven Fraser and four Whitlam's appointees, but it was by all accounts
a harmonious board which supported John Norgard in his attempts to get
the ABC more money and to stop the reduction of its staff.
In February '77 the Cabinet agreed to the additional $5.5m for the ABC
originally sought by Bland, but the real cut of 10% remained and 900 staff
had been dispensed with.
* All quotations from This is the ABC by Ken Inglis
Aunty, a personality
of steady and solid conservatism
'Aunty' was now  a familiar enough
nickname to be recognizable instantly as meaning the ABC. When journalists
had begun to apply it in the late 1960s, in imitation of British
usage about the BBC, ABC managers discouraged them, believing that
it signalled staidness. Denis O'Brien of The Bulletin thought them
mistaken. 'Aunty', he wrote in 1968, 'was more a token of steady
reliability - quality, if you like - than an epithet of ridicule
' A survey in 1973 nevertheless showed that the
word did have a perjorative ring ... As in Britain, there was an
implication that the organisation was less manly and youthful than
its commercial rivals.
Then in the 1970s it began to be taken up by people
who cared. A staff newsletter launched late in 1972 had Aunty for
its title, and as used by the concerned Friends in 1976 it suggested
that the ABC needed to be protected against assault. People surveyed
in 1979 were less likely than in 1973 to think the term mocking.
The ABC itself now accepted the label, though at first a little
By 1981 the publicity people were using it without
qualification, judging that as 'Aunty' the ABC was now a cherished
part of the national estate. When [Dr Earle]Hackett [acting Chairman],
wrote letters early in 1976 to public figures who had accused the
ABC of a bias towards radicalism, he pointed to the currency of
the term as evidence that the overall personality of the organisation
was one of 'steady and solid conservatism'.
This is the ABC by Ken Inglis